Never Recycle Your Schemes

Plankton: I've exhausted every evil plan in my filing cabinet — from A to Y!
Karen: A to Y?
Plankton: Yeah, A to Y, you know, the alphabet.
Karen: What about Z?

It doesn't matter how the hero stopped the villain's nefarious plot (be it through outsmarting the dastardly fiend, merely finding a weakness the insidious fiend overlooked, or sheer dumb luck). When his plan to take over the world is stopped, the villain has to start completely from scratch. He can't retool the previous plan to prevent the hero's method from working again; rather, he has to think up some new and creative way to bother the hero. This usually causes the villain to quickly run out of plans, something that may or may not be lampshaded.

Sometimes, the villain will take on the attitude that, since the scheme failed once it won't ever succeed. Other times, the villain will openly insist on coming up with a new way of doing something every time, even though the previous version would have worked if they only changed one tiny thing.

This is probably due to Rule of Cool, because if the villain did the same scheme over, modified to account for the hero's last successful attempt, the viewers would expect the bad guy to win (and then there'd be no more show/comic/book/etc.) and if they tried and failed with the same scheme, the villain would get predictable and the viewers would get bored.

Compare So Last Season, Forgotten Phlebotinum, Holding Back the Phlebotinum, No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup. Compare Adaptive Ability, where it's the heroes that can't recycle the original means of the villain's defeat, and Reed Richards Is Useless.

Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Mazinger Z: Big Bad Dr. Hell played straight it most of the time, coming up with a new Robeast, weapon or device that put Kouji or Mazinger Z through the wringer (Gromazen R9's acid blaster could melt Aphrodite A's armor, Kingdan X10 projected mirages, Holzon V3 set eathquakes off, Jinray S1 flew at Match 5, Aeros B2 could absorb Mazinger's attacks and hurling them back, Desma A1 caused hallucinations, Gumbina M5 was nearly impervious to all Mazinger's weapons...) and then he never tried to use it again, as well as never thought to combine many of them in a single superior robeast that compensates for the weakness of each individual weapon. However, sometimes he averted the trope by improving old weapons or reusing formerly successful strategies.
  • While played straight for the most part in Samurai Pizza Cats, one episode Big Cheese decided to build a giant killer robot that was an amalgam of every single one of the giant killer robots they used before. Not only did it look even more ridiculous than usual, but it was destroyed rather unceremoniously when Lucille panicked and unloaded her missile hairdo on it.
  • Team Rocket, particularly the Jessie/James/Meowth trio, from the Pokémon anime plays with this a bit. In a general planning sense, they avert it as they do enjoy digging pitfall traps, using PaperThin Disguises, and using giant machines to try to capture Pikachu/the Pokemon of the week. However, they play it straight when it comes to more specific plans. Often times, their plans would go off without a hitch if not for the interference of the "twerps." If they'd simply wait for the "twerps" to move on and then try again, they could quite possibly steal every Pokemon in the show not named Pikachu.

    Comic Books 
  • Played straight by Doctor Doom. When he reviewed a brain tape replay, he realized that one of his very old plans could be made to work with just a little bit of modification. He stopped the replay before it got to the actual plan.
    • Another time, Kristoff (standing in for Doctor Doom), dusts off one of Doom's old plans and corrects the fatal flaw which allowed the Fantastic Four to escape destruction the first time it was used. Needless to say, the Four come up with a different way to thwart the plan the second time around. (This may be why villains don't bother recycling their plans.)
      • They point out in story that while he eliminated the flaw, he didn't account for Sue having force field powers (she hadn't developed them when the plan was originally put into practice).
      • This was how they realized he was fake; the real Doctor Doom never recycles his schemes. Kristoff himself thought he was the real Doom at the time.
  • Lex Luthor suffers from this. Unless it involves exploiting one of Superman's various Kryptonite Factors (Kryptonite, magic or red sunlight), whatever scheme used against Superman is guaranteed not to be reused, especially since eidetic memory is one of his talents. In his Corrupt Corporate Executive Days his schemes were more about getting the measure of his adversary than actually beating him. No point in running the same plan twice once you have the information you need.
  • "The Trouble With Dimes" by Carl Barks had Donald Duck try a scheme of buying rare coins from Uncle Scrooge for their face value and then selling them for a huge profit to collectors. Scrooge got wind of the scheme and tricked Donald into flooding the market so the coins were worthless. Don Rosa's "The Money Pit" had Donald remember this flaw and try the plan again but this time vowing only to sell a few, very rare coins. After searching through Scrooge's coins for the rarest, most valuable ones gets him buried alive in the money bin, Scrooge expressly forbids the scheme from being recycled in any way again on the grounds of it being too dangerous: "I won't risk you being buried in my bin again. Why, my insurance rates would skyrocket!"
  • This is inverted in the Polish comic series Kajko i Kokosz. The villain Hegemon likes to reuse a simple plan of capturing the heroes' village: build a siege tower and use it to get his soldiers over the village wall. He also has the habit of setting fire to the tower after everyone else has climbed to the top so none of his men dare retreat. This means that he has to rebuild the tower every time he recycles the plan. The trope is played straight with the heroes who will use a different method every time they have to foil his plan.
  • Invoked in Adventures of Superman #520: on Christmas Eve, 100 criminals plot to commit acts of theft at midnight; rounding up the criminals strains the resources of the police, even with Superman's help. Supes and the Metropolis P.D. have to round up every single criminal in order to hammer home the message that this type of scheme doesn't work because if word got out of its success, criminals in other cities without a big name superhero could overwhelm the local police by copycatting the original 100.
  • Averted by Robotnik with great success in Sonic the Comic. The original Metallix Project results in rogue killbots that nearly take over the world; the second results in Robotnik's strongest, most reliable Badniks which can take Sonic in a one-on-one fight. The first Cybernik is an ultra-powerful Phlebotinum Rebel that is a persistent threat to Robotnik; the second Cybernik is loyal and a useful foil to the first.
  • Done by Diabolik and Ginko:
    • If Diabolik recycles a scheme, Ginko will be ready for it and slap him into jail (possibly long enough for that death sentence on his head to be executed), and if Ginko recycles a successful defensive ploy the next time Diabolik will bypass it with ease. Best shown by Diabolik's perfect masks: as soon as Ginko confirms their existence, every single defensive ploy of his involves pinching people's faces (including his own) to check for a mask, but once in a while Diabolik walks right through the checks thanks to theatrical make-up, wigs, and, in one occasion, shaving his own head (admittedly, the latter was improvisation and he wasn't dealing with Ginko... But it worked).
    • That said, Ginko is liable to recycle a defence once in a while... But only if Diabolik has no idea of what Ginko did to foil him. As that happened only with a single gold bricks escort scheme (namely leave the armoured truck empty and hide the gold in the escort motorbikes), that doesn't happen often.
    • In one occasion, a Diabolik copycat had his hired accomplices recycle some of Diabolik's schemes... And Ginko promptly identified him as a copycat and prepared to shut him down by using knowledge of what schemes were usable in a given situation and applying the obvious counters to arrest the accomplices until nobody was willing to accept a job for him. The only reason he didn't was that Diabolik tracked the copycat down first...

    Fan Fic 
  • In Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race, this is played straight most of the time, but averted in episode 11 where Wily decides to repeat a semi-successful plan in the hopes of hurting Mega more.
  • Averted in the Facing The Future Series where Technus tried to repeat his plan of taking control of the Cybertron satellite. As he stated "A good idea is a good idea". Granted, this is one time where it would've succeeded this time as Danny couldn't use the same method he stopped him with the first time.

    Film 
  • Ocean's Thirteen: "You don't run the same gag twice. You move on to the next gag!"
  • In Jack the Giant Killer (the 1962 version), the bad guy, Pendragon, is known as the Prince of Witches, and he surrounds himself with them, hideous monsters with amazing powers. The one time he sends them out to do his bidding in the entire film, they completely and easily overpower our hero and the entire crew of a ship to carry off Pendragon's evil plans with complete success, the only time in the film any of his plans actually works. So, naturally, he never uses them again. They just hang around looking evil and hideous while Pendragon sends easily defeated monsters after Jack. The witches are eventually destroyed when the castle blows up, having done not one other thing.
  • Batman & Robin: Robin heads to Poison Ivy's lair, pretending to be under her spell. Ivy has poisonous lips and has been trying to kiss Batman & Robin the whole film. Ivy kisses Robin, at which point he pulls off rubber coating on his lips, demonstrating how he survived the kiss. Ivy then pushes him into a sea of vines that try and drown him instead of having the vines hold him in place so she could kiss him again.
  • Subverted in Star Wars. What's the plot of A New Hope? The Empire has constructed a super-weapon called the Death Star, and the Rebel Alliance has to exploit a fatal flaw to destroy it. What's the plot of Return of the Jedi? The Empire has constructed a second Death Star without that fatal flaw, so the Rebel Alliance has to destroy it before it's complete or it will be basically unstoppable. Of course, some consider this a flaw.

    Literature 
  • The Transformers: Shattered Glass fiction averts and lampshades the trope. Stranded in a Mirror Universe, the Cliffjumper of our universe makes common cause with the Decepticons and prevents the evil Optimus Prime from launching a ship to invade and plunder Earth...whereupon Prime rebuilds the ship, takes precautions against further assault, and sets out to launch it again. Cliffjumper, who comes from a Generation 1 universe where this trope is law, is utterly shocked; he's never heard of a bad guy trying something twice!
  • A Zigzagging Trope in Animorphs. On the one hand, many Yeerk plans just come down to "promote The Sharing and try to get more hosts," with the only change being the particular fundraiser/stunt of the week; they also tried to locate the Pemalite ship in Book #36 after losing access to it in Book #27. On the other hand, they never make a third attempt (the second only failed because of random amphibious mutants), and despite its build-up over several books, the Anti-Morphing Ray was quickly abandoned after one apparent failure, possibly as a result of No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup (Visser Three had its creators fed to Taxxons). The plot to find the "Andalite bandits" in the forest is also quickly abandoned when their fake logging company is defeated, despite this logically being their biggest security issue on Earth.
  • Averted in the Honor Harrington stories taking place in the Talbott Quadrant. The machinations of Mesa in the second story, Storm From the Shadows are noted as being a second attempt at their first plan in Shadow of Saganami, the previous book. In both cases, the general plan was to use locals to stir up incidents that undermine Manticore, call in the Solarian League for aid, then ideally start a shooting incident between the two powers. The first attempt failed when a Manticoran commander stumbled onto evidence of the plot. The second time succeeded thanks to their Unwitting Pawn giving them exactly the shooting incident they wanted.

    Live-Action TV 
  • All of the several ways to counter the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation only ever worked once. This was used for suspense, and explained as the Borg being masters of adaptation. Apart from this, however, Star Trek: The Next Generation was known for solving problems through technobabble and rarely referring to the same solution again.
    • During the course of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Federation either encountered, captured, or developed several different pieces of technology that would have made dandy anti-Borg weaponry. The soliton wave (originally intended to be a "warp drive for ships without a warp reactor") and the sentient nanites, just to name two. But did Starfleet use such weapons? Of course they don't...
    • Also the grand-daddy of all forgotten weapons technology, Project Genesis from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Let's see the Borg adapt to that!
    • And of course they never reproduce the one technology that has proved itself repeatedly effective against the Borg: bullets and other such kinetic energy weapons. The fact that the Borg haven't already adapted to it proves that they can't — what are the odds that of all the species the Borg have assimilated, they never encountered one that used guns?
  • Venjix and Tenaya 7 of Power Rangers RPM have this problem.
    • Power Rangers generally suffers from this, but there are more than a few occasions (including in RPM) where the villain recreates a monster than was defeated before, only with improvements.
    • Subverted in the last episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Master Vile reveals his scheme to turn the Rangers into powerless children and Zedd responds with "I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but we tried this once before and it failed!" Of course, to Zedd's chagrin, Vile's version of the plan worked surprisingly well and came much closer to wiping out
the Rangers than Zedd or Rita ever did.
  • Later on subverted again. Vile decides to blow up the Command Center with a bomb which Alpha detects and quickly disarms. Later on that season Zedd recycles the scheme by sending Goldar and Rito to tunnels underneath the Command Center where they can place a bomb that won't be so easily detected.
  • Lampshaded by the Big Bad in the first season of 24, when Ira Gaines points out he can still use Jack Bauer's daughter as leverage. Ironically, Drazen would end up kidnapping Jack's daughter later on and using her in the same fashion.
    Andrei Drazen: When Plan A fails you go to Plan B, not Plan A recycled.
  • In the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer The Master, angry that Buffy has been killing so many of his servants, sends a trio of vampire warriors to kill her. They almost do, but Angel shows up and they run away. When they return to report that Angel intervened, he has them killed, and has Darla try to remove Angel as a factor. While this at least shows he's paying attention to what caused the plan to fail, it doesn't change the fact that even if Darla gets rid of Angel, he's just killed off the only vampires he's got who not only survived their encounter, but sent her running.
  • Colditz: Any escape plan which the guards discover tends to get new security procedures installed to prevent it happening again. Some of the schemes fail for other reasons and are able to be retried later, though.
  • Blake's 7 - Notably the marble-sized plague sphere which came within a gnats whisker of killing the crew in Project Avalon. There should have been any number of ways of smuggling that weapon about the Liberator, and it would have been a short show if Servalan had bothered to try.
  • UFO. Each episode has a different alien plot to destroy SHADO headquarters, kill Ed Straker, release nerve gas or whatever. Each time a plot fails the aliens never try it again even if it has a good chance of working.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • It is common in wrestling to see special no-DQ matches where the goal is to do something other than pin your opponent (e.g. to escape from a cage or unhook a belt/contract). These objectives can often be rendered trivial by handcuffing your opponent to an immovable part of the scenery so that they cannot interfere. Since it is apparently extremely easy to render a wrestler completely senseless for a few seconds, but almost impossible to knock them out for the thirty seconds or so it takes to complete the objective, this seems like a very practical and effective tactic. Whilst it does occasionally happen, you would think that wrestlers would just do this at every opportunity.
  • In WWE, the identical Bella twins would frequently get the upper hand by switching places during a match when the referee wasn't looking. Kelly Kelly once hit upon the idea of drawing on one of the twins with a marker pen so that she and the referee could easily tell which twin was which, making this tactic impossible. Even though it worked, no one ever thought to do this again, including Kelly herself.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Time Master game, the Demoreans never reused a plan. And in a time travel game, you really could keep trying until you got it right. Justified by said aliens being obsessed with "perfection" — if a plan failed, it obviously wasn't perfect and wasn't worth repeating.

    Video Games 
  • In Shining Force II, a non-villainous scheme involves Sarah gets the party into Granseal castle by pretending to have a package that Sir Astral needs while he's checking up on the King. Later, after having broken out of Galam jail and fought your way outside, Slade, your newest recruit, attempts to do the same thing to the Galam soldiers in exchange for safe passage into Granseal, under siege by Galam. However, this time, it horribly backfires.

    Webcomics 
  • Mentioned here in Captain SNES: The Game Masta with regards to Captain N: The Game Master:
    Terra:[Dr. Wily] then gives [duplicated artifacts of power] to an android which manages to defeat the entire team! They only finally win by exploiting the thing's humanity. But does Wily try again with a less human robot? Noooo! Next episode he's making a fricken' robocat to lure Duke into Bayou Billy's swamp! And it wasn't just once! That stuff happened all the time!
  • In Shortpacked!, after her plan to steal a lizard with apparent Mind Control powers fails, Sidney Yus lampshades that she won't try it again.
    Sidney: Curses! And I won't try this specific scheme ever again even if the reptile is always readily available because I've already done this one!

    Western Animation 
  • Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants. "I've used every plan from A to Y!" He then proceeds to use Plan Z.
  • Averted in the Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons. Wily frequently modifies and repeats plans in the same short. Even so, step one of each plan is usually a bowl of "Free Birdseed" in the middle of the road, and this part nearly always works. If the Road Runner didn't stop for suspiciously free birdseed every time, most of the Coyote's schemes wouldn't even begin. Of course, this will be the last thing that works as it's supposed to, as the laws of physics are always on the Road Runner's side.
  • Non-villainous, lampshaded example: in The Simpsons episode "Today I Am A Clown", Maggie has locked herself in the bathroom. The family try various ways to get her out including using a coat hanger. All attempts to open the door fail. The family is just about to try their zaniest scheme yet when Lisa announces she got Maggie out. Everyone asks how. Lisa replies, "I tried the coathanger again. I don't understand why we only try things once."
  • Pinky and the Brain
    • The show seemed to not only use each plan once, but would often consider the plan a failure if the funding (financing or resource gathering) stage failed. Brain never seems to imagine that he could simply postpone the plan and use a different resource-gathering method and abandons the plan as a failure before it even begins. Brain once hangs a lampshade on this by spending one episode trying to find new methods when he thinks all his old plans amount to the same thing...
    • This reached its peak when Pinky had accidentally activated Brain's robot army, who then proceeded to take the President hostage, with him in the act of signing a surrender, only for Brain to intervene and, without knowing about his machines' progress, deactivated his wildly duplicating robots. When he saw the news report of his "failed" coup, his only response was sadness (it was a non-talking episode). The robots weren't destroyed, just deactivated, and he could have simply turned them back on and become ruler of America, but his only response was to give up and hit Pinky.
    • Even worse Brain's plans often failed due to wildly improbable circumstances that had little or no chance of recurring.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zhao went to some trouble to get the Yu-Yan archers in his service for capturing Aang. The archers accomplish this easily, but we never see them used again. Particularly notable in that this plan completely succeeds in exactly the way Zhao wanted (Aang is completely defeated and totally captured) so in this example it's a flaw-LESS plan that isn't recycled.
  • Not only does Dr Claw of Inspector Gadget never use the same evil plan twice, he always hires a new specialist agent for each new plan (but uses the same generic mooks for everything else).
  • In one episode of Gummi Bears, Toady suggests to Duke Igthorn that they build another catapult to attack Castle Dunwin (as they did in the first story). Igthorn scornfully remarks that they tried that idea already.
  • Doubly subverted for laughs in The Powerpuff Girls: Mojo Jojo actually repeated one of his previous plans down to the tiniest detail, much to the surprise of the girls, who didn't believe it at first. When they confront Mojo, he says he studied the footage of his plan and figured out the fatal flaw: turning the girls into dogs, which allowed them to bite his butt and lead to his defeat. So in this new version, he doesn't turn the girls into dogs and wears a metal plate to cover his rear (rather redundant, considering he doesn't turn them into dogs). Which of course, leaves him open to the girls just punching the stuffing out of him, as he discovers a moment later.
    • The Power Puff Girls also features a villain named HIM who has openly stated, as a point of Pride, that he never uses a plan more than once, after having demonstrated his power to make all of Townsville attack the girls in a murderous frenzy, which the girls overcame by being perfectly willing to beat the stuffing out of the brainwashed citizens. Considering his Reality Warper powers, he really wouldn't ever 'need' to repeat a plan, though his later schemes were all over the map in terms of whether they were more interesting uses of his powers than "corrupt the town with murderous evil".
  • The plans of Koopa in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show were always foiled because the heroes just happened to be around whenever he carried out his plan. If Koopa ever went back and tried again after the heroes left he could have succeeded.
  • In one episode of Super Friends, Braniac uses a super vacuum to suck the ring right off Green Lantern's finger. He never uses this again despite it being capable of immediately disabling one of the most powerful Superfriends.
    • Challenge of the Superfriends was notorious for this. The Legion of Doom would come up with matter teleporters, time travel devices, and all matter of wonder weapons — they'd use them once to try and rob a bank, and then never use them again. The dumpster out in back of the Legion of Doom's headquarters is probably full of trillion-dollar patents that will never see the light of day.
  • Dr. Wily in the Ruby-Spears Mega Man show never repeated a plan. Sometimes justified by Dr. Light coming up with a counter to whatever he had tried. In "Cold Steel" he tried to recover his device so he could start the plan over later, but Mega Man stopped him.
  • Phineas and Ferb had Doofensmirtz recycle his scheme from the first episode, with his only change being switching out his giant magnet for a giant magnet-inator. It ended the exact same way as before, with Doofensmirtz barely realizing his mistake. Mind you, the rest of the episode was about recycling the first episode's plot AS A MUSICAL!
    • On the non-villainous side, Candace rarely uses the same busting strategy more than once. Even though she has a camera phone, she very rarely thinks of using it.
  • A He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) episode where Skeletor dams and attempts to drain the Sea of Eternia to cause a massive drought to devastate the plant life to lower the oxygen level of the planet. He-Man makes a new ally with an insectoid people to stop the plot and afterward they agree to guard the Sea to prevent Skeletor from trying again.
  • Superman: The Animated Series had Desaad send a probe/automaton to battle Superman in "Father's Day". Superman beats the automaton but Desaad tells Darkseid that the probe was designed to fail, so that it would gather battle data in preparation for building "the ultimate weapon", presumably a more powerful automaton that would account for the failures of the first one and stand a much greater chance of beating Superman. Darkseid dismisses this, stating "That was your ultimate weapon" and refuses to allow him to even pursue the making of such a weapon.
  • In Code Lyoko, XANA almost never tries the same attack twice. Sometimes, especially in the first season, the group takes action to prevent him from repeating a scheme. Other times you have to wonder why he doesn't just repeat an attack with a few modifications, considering the kids are so often only Just in Time to defeat him, sometimes within a few seconds.
  • In Young Justice T.O.Morrow stuck with his plot to "build a humanoid android to infiltrate the Justice Society" no matter what. His first attempt Red Torpedo found out he was an android, his Second attempt Red Inferno was KIA, and his third creation Red Tornado choose to be a superhero for real. This didn't work out well for him as he had wasted his life away for nothing. The one shown on screen was actually a robot, the real one was a comatose old manimmune. Cliffjumper is shocked at this, as he's used to villains who throw out their whole plan after one mistake.
  • Averted to ridiculous extremes in Ed, Edd n Eddy where Eddy continuously reused the same scam with a minor tweak.

    Real Life 
  • At first glance the German attacks on France in 1914 and 1940 seem eerily similar. In reality this is an imperfect example. Fall Gelb was significantly different from the Schlieffen Plan. In 1914, the Germans tried to bypass the French army and take Paris by going through central Belgium. In 1940, they feinted as if they were going to do that again, drawing the best and most mechanized British and French units into northern and central Belgium to stop them, and then cut through southern Belgium to encircle those British and French units, forcing them to retreat through Dunkirk. In short, Fall Gelb succeeded largely because the Allies were expecting a repeat of Schlieffen.
    • The first plan for the 1940 attack actually was a tweaked repeat of the Schlieffen plan, but after an airplane carrying officers with documents that gave away the plan made a forced landing in the Netherlands, Hitler decided to use the alternative plan cooked up by Manstein.
    • The Ardennes Offensive of 1944 (aka the Battle of the Bulge) is often seen as an attempt to repeat the "Sichelschnitt" (sickle-cut) of 1940.
  • During the US Civil War, the Army of the Potomac got within five miles of the Confederate capital at Richmond during the Peninsular Campaign, and only got driven back because of the timidity of Gen. McClellan, even though the Army of Northern Virginia took more casualties during the Seven Days' Battle, (and was smaller to begin with). Despite this, the North never again made any serious attempt to capture Richmond by moving northwest from Ft. Monroe.
  • Completely averted by Italian Marshal Luigi Cadorna in World War I. His campaign plan was to attack up the Isonzo River and break through the Austrian line there. He tried it twelve times over the course of two years. It was part of a Xanatos Gambit: due large numerical superiority the Austrians had no way to successfully attack back, if he broke the line there, he'd have free access to the maritime part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, thus effectively eliminating half of the Central Powers fleets in the Mediterranean and cutting off trade, and for every failure at breaking through the Austro-Hungarian Army was even nearer to collapse, at which point the Italian Army would have been free to attack Vienna itself, eliminate the Austro-Hungarian Empire from the war and invade Germany from south (what effectively happened at the end of the war, when both sides had effectively exhausted their reserves but the Italians were still more numerous). And it would have worked, had the Russians not collapsed before the Austrians, thus freeing the manpower needed to mount an effective counterattack